What is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol depresses nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing and the gag reflex, which prevents choking. Someone who drinks a fatal dose of alcohol will eventually stop breathing. Even if someone survives an alcohol overdose, he or she can suffer irreversible brain damage. Rapid binge drinking (which often happens on a bet or a dare) is especially dangerous because the victim can drink a fatal dose before losing consciousness.

A person’s blood alcohol concentration can continue to rise even while he or she is passed out. Even after someone stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the blood-stream and circulate throughout the body. A person who appears to be sleeping it off may be in real danger.

What Should I Look For?

Critical signs of alcohol poisoning include mental confusion, stupor, coma, or the person cannot be roused; vomiting; seizures; slow (fewer than eight breaths per minute) or irregular (10 seconds or more between breaths) breathing; and hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, and paleness.

What Should I Do?

Know the danger signals. If you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning, don’t wait for all the critical signs to be present. If you suspect an alcohol overdose, call 911 immediately for help.

Adapted from Parents: Help Your Teen Party Right at Graduation, NIH Publication No. 07-5641.